Popular digital retro game store Good Old Games (GOG), does not really care about vintage PC hardware fans. That is my conclusion after watching GOG evolve from a superb retro PC game fixer to a giant struggling to compete with the Steam and Epic game stores, thereby also catering to the needs of not so Good Old gamers. GOG has been in trouble financially speaking a few times, especially combined with the botched Cyberpunk release, as The Verge reports:
GOG launched in 2008 as Good Old Games, a platform built around selling hard-to-find classic games without digital rights management or DRM. Since then, it’s expanded into a more all-purpose storefront selling new third-party games and internal studio CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, plus an online service called GOG Galaxy. But it’s also faced apparent financial problems before, laying off a reported 10 percent of its staff in 2019.
All-purpose storefront, selling new third-party games? That worked out really well didn’t it? Or how about that new GOG Galaxy game launcher, a butt-ugly and pathetic attempt to emulate the even more butt-ugly Steam application that simply gets in my way when I want to play something. Luckily, there’s still the option to download the Good Old (ha!) single-binary installer.
Except that now we’re facing a new problem: “old games”—that’s subjective, right?—such as my beloved point & click horror adventure Sanitarium now suddenly require Windows 7+ to play. It was originally released in 1998 and ran on Windows 95/98. If I download the file on my mac and use a simple USB stick to transfer it to my Win98 machine, I won’t be able to extract it. I don’t have a modern Windows machine: a 32-bit Windows XP is the best I can do. To add insult to injury, GOG does not provide Mac-compatible installers or even stupidly simple
It gets worse. Most DOS games come packaged with DOSBox, an emulator that does its job relatively well. some adventure games come packaged with ScummVM (great!), opening up compatibility to multiple platforms. Except, well, the original platform a vintage gamer wants to run it on—you know, DOS?—won’t work, because the GOG installer does not even come with the original
.exe binary, as ScummVM only requires the data files.
That meant I had to download an illegal version of a game I just bought to get one file to run it on the original hardware. I’ll let that sink in for a while.
Thankfully, the VOGONS Community (Very Old Games On New Systems) stepped in and created a digital DOS games retro PC compatibility sheet. The sheet comes with handy columns such as “How is the game packaged?”, “How do I install the game on a DOS PC?” among with specs, and “how do I configure this game?”. If you scroll down to “Gobliiins 1–3”, it states N/A. Necessary executables are not included.
Unfortunately, Sanitarium isn’t on the list, and I should add it after I cursed my way through the installation process. No wonder that GOG is losing money. Is it too much to ask for a simple zip file with original files that can be opened on any operating system? I don’t care for support, provide both if you’re into self-unpacking Windows installers.
GOG used to make me really, really happy. Nowadays, I only go there to buy something during a sale if I can’t easily get it elsewhere. That said, “elsewhere” isn’t a great option for PC gamers either: I’ve had second hand floppy disks fail on me, I’ve bought scratched-up and thus unreadable CD-ROMs, and I’ve tried ignoring outrageous prices of older big box PC games.
Even worse, GOG is silently removing games from their digital shelf. Seminal first-person dungeon crawler Ultima Underworld was no longer available. It was just… gone. Why? I have no clue. Rights management gone wrong? And we’re not talking about an insignificant release here: Underground was—and is—a big deal, a huge milestone in computer role playing games. And then, suddenly, in August last year, it returned, and was free until September. Why? I have no clue.
Remember, digital purchases mean squat. Keep it physical bro.